Superb article by Sb Tang in Cricket Monthly. He looks at this habit of Aussie batsmen’s stance while facing the bowlers. Some batters tap the pitch as bowler steams in whereas others keep their bats up showing their stumps. The tapping bit is how it has been traditionally done. But recently the option to keep bats up has picked up leading to technical deficiency in batsmen.
And who was behind this bat-up stance? Ironically, Mr. Cricket Michael Hussey:
When Hussey scored his solitary first-class hundred of an otherwise dismal summer in March 2001, he was still tapping his bat and keeping it down. But not long thereafter, he realised he had a problem that he would have to rectify if he was to realise his dream of playing for Australia – his bat-tap was causing his head to “fall over too much towards the off side and so… was having trouble hitting the balls off his pads and getting LB”. Hussey is five foot ten inches tall and has “quite long legs”. He “tried batting with a long blade bat, just to try and keep myself a little more upright and keep my weight more upright, but every time I leant over to tap the bat it took my head over [towards the off side] and I had bad balance”.
Once he went bat-up, Hussey was unstoppable. He made his one-day international debut in February 2004 and his Test debut in November 2005. After his first 20 Tests, the only batsman he could statistically be compared with was Donald Bradman – he was averaging 84.80. Hussey retired from Test cricket in January 2013 – with 6235 runs and 19 hundreds, at an average of 51.52 – as the first great Australian Test batsman to use a bat-up technique.
He won’t be the last.
Steven Smith uses a bat-up technique. When Australia won a fifth World Cup earlier this year, five batsmen – Smith, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner – in Australia’s top seven used bat-up. (A sixth member of that top seven, Michael Clarke, could be argued to have had a bat-up technique by that very late stage of his illustrious career, having been bat-down for most of it.)
This led to most batsmen opting for the bat-up technique and has annoyed purists:
For the first 128 years of Australia’s Test history, there was one constant in a boundless sea of technical heterodoxy – great Australian batsmen gently and rhythmically tapped their bats on the ground as the bowler ran in, and kept their bats grounded until around the time the bowler jumped into his delivery stride.
Every permanent member of the top seven (Matthew Hayden, Michael Slater/Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist) of Australia’s victorious 2001 Ashes team – the last to win an Ashes series on English soil – adhered to this method.
The significant, and growing, proportion of Australian batsmen who have started holding their bats up like baseballers over the past decade has been, to borrow a phrase from WG Grace, one of those “silent revolutions transforming cricket”. Chappell certainly believes so. He said that it’s “a revolution that is changing batting like it’s never changed before in the history of the game”
Firstly, the more upright bat-up batsman presents a bigger target for the fast bowler with a good bouncer than the classical, bat-down batsman who is tapping his bat (and therefore at least slightly crouched, on his toes, at the ready, like a boxer). Thus, in the pre- and early-helmet era, the greater likelihood of being struck by a bouncer dissuaded batsmen from going bat-up. However, by the mid-2000s, advancements in helmet technology had greatly reduced the risk of serious injury.
Secondly, Callen found, through systematic testing, that the quality of the sweet spot on a good English willow bat has not changed much, if at all, over the last century – if you drop a ball onto the sweet spot of a 1930s bat, it will bounce as high as one dropped onto the sweet spot of a current-day bat. But the size of the sweet spot has increased exponentially. Therefore, today’s batsmen have a much greater margin for error than batsmen in the 1930s or even the 1970s.
Proponents of the bat-down method, such as Chappell, who is now Cricket Australia’s National Talent Manager, believe that it enables a batsman to more easily synchronise his hand and foot movement, thereby making it easier for him to get into “a more optimal position” to play the shot that he has imagined, “at the correct time”, which in turn enables him to consistently hit “the ball in the middle of the sweet spot”. There is obviously less need for him to do that if the sweet spot on his bat is much larger. According to Chappell, bat-up is a “less efficient” method of batting and “it’s probably the improvement in the bats that has allowed these [less efficient] methods to prosper, because the mishit goes better than it’s ever gone before, so batsmen are probably not getting the feedback… that these methods are less efficient than methods that have been used before”.
Superb stuff. Never really thought about this aspect of batting technique..